Our pretty Cotswolds’ village – the ‘other’ Broadway – has a star-studded past of its own
From historic royalty and glamorous artists to film stars, the village has had its share of dramas. Join us below for a wordy wander around Broadway, England with Blue Badge guide Sean Callery.
Sean offers a variety of quirky small-group walking tours across the Cotswolds, including his ‘Broadway Stars’ which passes right by your front door when you stay with us. You can book yourself a place via his guiding website Offbeat Cotswolds
“Broadway’s honey-stoned beauty brings many visitors, but it is much more than just a pretty face: its 1000-year history takes in a medieval market, a stagecoach hotspot and a set of Bohemian artists who visited, loved and stayed.
At the heart of Broadway lies the village green, a picnicker’s paradise with plenty of room to spread a blanket and tuck into locally bought treats. The wide span of the road here gave the village its name: Broad Way was part of an ancient Ridgeway route that became a market place and then an important stopover on the London-Worcester run during the stagecoach era.
Keep an eye on the road for a chucklesome vehicle or two. The village is in Wychavon district and a competition to name its recycling trucks produced some great punning suggestions. Look out for: Sir Trash a Lot, Recylosaurus Rex, the Ter-bina-ator and Binderella, among many other rubbish ideas.
Then cross the street and walk up an alley to pop into the Gordon Russell museum, once the workshop of this famous furniture designer. His styles spanned Arts and Crafts, the streamlined modernism of the 1930s, the spare but elegant post-War Utility ranges and, later, more luxurious pieces. Russell designed his furniture here and had it made in the village by 200 local craftsmen.
The Russell family had arrived in 1904 to run the Lygon Arms. This large and popular inn dates back at least to 1377 when it was known as the White Hart. It became one of 33 inns in the village offering stagecoach passengers some relief from their jolting ride – a mere 16 hours from London. Today you can arrive via the hotel’s own helipad! The inn accommodated both sides during the English Civil War, with Charles I and Oliver Cromwell staying – not at the same time.
Head up the High Street and you’ll pass sweet Cotswolds Place holiday apartment on the right. A couple of minutes’ further up is the Broadway Museum and Art Gallery, in Tudor House. Like many of the village’s buildings it has had several uses, from family home to inn, school and as internationally-known antique shop HR Keil. The imposing clock on Eadburgha House next to the museum is known locally as ’The Dummy’ because it has no mechanical workings – the hands are powered by mains electricity.
Milestone House, on the left as you continue along Upper High Street, is named after the Roman milestone that stands outside showing ‘London 90 miles’. The ancient stone post was deliberately defaced during World War 2 in case it revealed valuable information to invading paratroopers.
Upper High Street is a calm cul-de-sac these days, but until 1998 was the manically-busy main route out of town. It’s a fine place to admire the traditional Cotswold building style, for example the pretty and much-photographed row known as Shakespeare Cottages.
Court Farm, on the right towards the top of Upper High Street, was a name-dropper’s paradise 100 years ago when it was home to American-born actress Mary Anderson. From the 1890s she hosted kings, queens and prime ministers here as well as artists and writers such as Peter Pan author JM Barrie. Her home boasted a chapel in the attic, while the gardens were designed by Alfred Parsons, illustrator of works by Charles Dickens.
At the top of Upper High Street a gate once stretched across the road from what is now Pike Cottage to collect tolls from vehicles about to slog their way up Fish Hill. This is so steep that passengers sometimes had to get out and push.
Their journey took them past Broadway Tower at the top of the hill. This eccentric castellated tower has housed a printing press, served as a holiday retreat for Arts and Crafts pioneer William Morris, delighted artists and writers such as Elgar, John Singer Sargent and Henry James, and was part of the early warning system for nuclear attacks during the 1950s Cold War. It was built in 1798 for Sir George William, 6th Earl of Coventry, possibly so that his wife could boast that they could see and be seen from their Coombe Court estate 20 miles away towards Worcester. Its height of 316 metres above sea level gives views over at least ten counties on a good day.
A highlight at the other end of Broadway is St Eadburgha’s Church, which has Saxon origins and was where the village was originally born. An imposing lychgate at the cemetery entrance was built in memory of Frank Millet. This American painter and sculptor adored Broadway and encouraged literary and artist friends such as Mark Twain, Henry James and John Singer Sargent to visit. Broadway looked gorgeous and was cheaper and more restful than London. For some reason villagers tolerated the group’s Bohemian lifestyle, which revolved around music, art and fun. They became known as the Broadway Colony and the church gate tribute followed Millet’s death on the Titanic in 1912.“
You can also buy Sean Callery’s new book Offbeat Cotswolds, a cornucopia of quirky sites and stories from the area.